Stories are such a magical part of growing up. The world that emerges from a torchlight hidden underneath the quilt, a stern promise to yourself that you will put the book down at the end of this chapter, that sense of satisfaction and loss you feel when finishing a truly good one. Sigh.
One of the reasons behind why I write is precisely this feeling. I want to capture it, spin it onto the pages, delve deeply in my own past to conjure it to life again. Reading Middle Grade books is still such a joy as an adult, and when I discover the magic in wonderful books, my soul sings. Finding a delightful series so that enchanting feeling can live on? Priceless.
So, if you are looking for a series for your Upper Middle Grade reader (9-14) or just a whimsical world to disappear for a while, check out these ones I’ve fallen in love with:
Withering-by-Sea (Judith Rossell): Stella Montgomery Intrigue Series
I have so much fondness for this series, which I discovered at the library within less than a week had read each of the titles (Wormwood Mire and Wakestone Hall). Yes, they are all that good and received countless awards just to prove it!
The alternate-Victorian era world that Rossell builds is vivid, deliciously creepy and I swear it must exist somewhere – her ability with words (and illustrations) is just divine. Stella Montgomery is a compelling protagonist, with her aptly named Aunts and their contraptions standing sufficiently in the way of her goals to be a grand adventurer through the mildew-spotted pages of her Atlas (or at least leave her stifling locked room from time to time).
Rossell is a magician with her illustrations, which add so much to the story. I loved the little sketches interspersed between the full page drawings as well. If I could be even a smidgen of the writer/artist Rossell is, I would count myself inordinately lucky.
Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt (Rhiannon Williams): The Narroway Trilogy
This is a trilogy in progress and I have only had the privilege of reading the first title in the series, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Winner of the Ampersand Prize (apparently a first for the Middle Grade category), the writing is of high quality and the plot draws you in immediately.
Williams spins an imaginative tale that captures wonder and provokes curiosity. Brave Ottilie is forced to disguise herself as a boy so that she can rescue her younger brother, Gully, after he is captured by the Narroway Hunt. In doing so, she finds a strange world and uncovers more than a few secrets. Billed as ‘Harry Potter’ meets ‘Hunger Games’, there’s heaps of action and intrigue to enjoy in this one.
In creating this post I discovered there is now a second book out: Ottilie Colter and the Master of Monsters which I’m adding to my TBR pile immediately.
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Jessica Townsend): Nevermoor Series
This is one of those series that I just wanted to keep laying the book on my chest and sighing in delight. Townsend creates a world that is truly magical in Nevermoor – Jupiter North’s whimsical hotel, a giant cat who talks, a room that changes personalities, travel by umbrella. Morrigan Crow is a likeable character and we feel for her journey in discovering what her Knack is, and her terror that North might have made a terrible mistake in backing her for entry to the Wundrous Society.
Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow is equally enjoyable and a wonderful continuation of the imaginative world. Apparently Townsend is planning a nine-part series, which sounds like music to my ears (and is an encouraging thought, considering my own lofty plans!)
Podkin One-Ear (Kieran Larwood): The Five Realms Series
I haven’t read Watership Down, but this series, which is based in a world of rabbits and warrens and ancient magical powers, is extraordinarily well-conceived. With comparisons to the Lord of the Rings, this is an epic adventure-fantasy series that just keeps going deeper.
Larkin’s rich imagery pulled me in right away and I loved the technique of telling a rather scary story from the comfort of a burrow, for me the lingering feeling was one of a gathering at the feet of a master storyteller rather than the horror of the Gorm (the villains). With stunning illustrations that heighten the experience, you will be drawn into this warren-like world and struggle to emerge until the last page.
Accidental Heroes (Lian Tanner): The Rogues Trilogy
In a world where no one believes in magic but many a strange thing takes place, we meet Duckling and her grandfather Lord Rump. When Duckling meets Pummel and he becomes entangled in their schemes, the three of them enter the Strong-hold of Berren and find a place brimming with strange secrets.
The writing is concise and vivid, expertly woven and the plot unfolds well. I love the character of Lord Rump, a true rogue if ever there was one, and the way in which he presents himself (and also the layers of subtext that are woven through as to what he is ‘really’ saying).
I haven’t yet read the sequel (Secret Guardians) but it is definitely on my list. The third book is yet to be released.
Dragon Keeper (Caroline Wilkinson): Dragonkeeper Series
Breathtaking, heart-wrenching and historically rich – I have a feeling that this book will stay with me for years to come.
From the unnamed slave girl who has nothing except her pet rat, Hua, to the weary dragon, Danzi, who takes her on a journey that changes her forever – I devoured this tale and didn’t want it to end. Wilkinson perfectly manages to balance the sharing of information and the need for a sense of pace, weaving in elements of fantasy and magic effortlessly.
There are a couple of violent clashes and scary villains to be aware of, but you will want to read this series along with your kids.
A six-book series in all, I’m still working my way through but enjoying the experience immensely.
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone (Jaclyn Moriarty): Kingdoms & Empires Series
Moriarty has long been a favourite author of mine, as I particularly enjoyed her Colours of Madeleine trilogy, and this series is equally enchanting.
When Bronte’s adventurer parents are killed by pirates they leave an extraordinarily detailed set of instructions for their daughter to follow immediately. Despite the considerable inconvenience, she sets forth on the adventure, armed with gifts and a dry sense of humour that will keep her grounded along the way.
Charming, unpredictable and interesting – I found myself laughing and smiling the whole way through and thought Bronte to be a very compelling main character. The elaborate journey that she takes is filled with surprises, coincidences and delights and it is all woven together with such a deft touch. Can’t wait to introduce the book to all of my kids as I think it is perfect for both boys and girls alike.
The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars is an exceptional conclusion to the Kingdoms & Empires series and I very much enjoyed it as well.
Over to you now – what should I be adding to this list? Feel free to follow me on Goodreads if you want to stay up to date with my reading journey!